I wonder if any of you were looking forward to seeing The Interview on Christmas Day.
That’s the comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about a CIA plot to kill North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, with two celebrity journalists recruited to do the deed after landing a major TV interview with the supreme leader.
Anyway, if you were planning to see it, you can forget it. It is not coming to a theater near you. It’s also not coming to theaters that are nowhere near you, either.
The Interview was pulled from worldwide distribution completely by Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc. this week. The whole release is dead.
You may have heard about that online threat of terrorist attacks on movie theaters and how that led to this decision to nix the release. But it’s a much, much longer story than that.
The situation that led up to this total debacle for Sony, for the entire motion picture industry and for all movie fans has proven to be the biggest Hollywood story of the century, let alone 2014.
First, let’s put things into context.
Sony Pictures has had a very rough last couple of years. Two summers ago they rolled out some expensive, big-budget, box office flops in After Earth and White House Down. The entire management at Sony, including chair and CEO Michael Lynton and chair Amy Pascal, took some heavy fire over what happened, and a lot of executives ended up losing their jobs as a result.
In a nutshell, Sony has been feeling the heat for a long time for a lot of different reasons that go beyond what has gone on in the last few weeks.
That leads me to the second part of the equation, and that is Seth Rogen.
Rogen is probably the most successful of the entire ensemble of cast members from the comedy movie output of producer Judd Apatow. Apatow’s efforts have included such hits as the Anchorman movies, Knocked Up, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and any number of them.
These have been very well-received by critics and audiences alike and have boosted the careers of the likes of Steve Carell, Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, Paul Rudd, Leslie Mann, and of course, Rogen, who not only became a major star in Hollywood but also got involved with writing and producing as well. He and co-producers Evan Goldberg and James Weaver brought Neighbors and This Is the End to the screen.
The bottom line is that this chance by Sony to work with Rogen, a major Hollywood player, is simply too good to pass up. And clearly, they needed a hit, or some semblance of good news.
It’s at this point that we bring up the events of July 20, 2012, at the Century movie theater complex in Aurora, Colorado.
The horrific events at the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, in which a dozen people were killed and several more injured, rocked the entire motion picture industry to its core.
More than that, security at movie theaters all over North America became a major concern, due to copycat incidents and situations involving gunmen of various sorts. No one in the movie industry, or anyone else, wants to see any repeat of what happened in Aurora.
That is the backdrop to the making of The Interview, produced by Rogen, Goldberg and Weaver, which was inspired by the usual lunacy we have come to expect from the leadership of North Korea. The idea was to satirize the country’s young leader Kim Jong-un, a guy known mainly for making threats to South Korea and for hanging around with his new pal, basketball player Dennis Rodman.
Filming took place in Vancouver in 2013 and the film was scheduled initially for an October release in 2014.
But trouble started soon after as word leaked out about the assassination plotline of the movie and its depiction of the North Korean leader. Word leaked of a scene in which the leader’s face was melted off in slow motion fashion.
In June, North Korea made its initial threats against the USA if the movie was released. Sony responded at that time by ordering changes to the movie, including the digital alteration of buttons so they would not look like ones worn by the North Korean military.
That process delayed the release of The Interview to its new Dec. 25 date. But the fun wasn’t finished.
Then came the infamous, widespread cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment in November.
The attack, carried out by a group responsible called the “Guardians of Peace”, aka #GOP, was devastating. Not only were internal computers at Sony crippled, but all kinds of confidential information got released into the open.
Early-version scripts for movies were leaked. Some completed movies wound up pirated. And internal emails of all kinds spilled no end of information.
A prime target was the upcoming James Bond film Spectre. An early version of the script was leaked out, giving away the whole plot and ending. Also leaked were embarrassing details about how Spectre was way over budget and would cost $300 million to make.
Another prime target were the higher-ups at Sony, chief among them Amy Pascal. Her confidential email exchanges were leaked and those proved pretty embarrassing to say the least, with lots of disparaging references from various folks about a number of top Hollywood actors.
Most infamous was the exchange between Pascal and producer Scott Rudin about Angelina Jolie, in which Jolie was allegedly referred to as a “minimally talented spoiled brat” by Rudin. He later had to issue an apology for that.
That exchange was leaked just before a meeting between Jolie and Pascal took place. Talk about an awkward situation.
These hacks were definitely an infringement upon Sony’s intellectual property, and were also kind of funny actually. But when these “Guardians of Peace“ released an online statement threatening Sept. 11-style attacks on movie theaters that screened The Interview, the situation escalated to downright scary.
“We will clearly show it to you at the very time and places “The Interview” be shown, including the premiere, how bitter fate those who seek fun in terror should be doomed to,” the statement read.
“Remember the 11th of September 2001. We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places at that time.”
Panic set in as movie theaters cancelled screenings of The Interview en masse. Among the chains to pull the movie was Cineplex, who control most of the major cinemas in Canada.
The decision of the major chains to refuse to screen the movie made it impossible for Sony to release The Interview on time. Their hand was forced, but the final announcement Dec. 17 that the company had pulled the movie from distribution completely still came as a shock.
Shortly after, it became known the FBI had identified North Korea as the ones behind the cyber attack on Sony.
The reaction I see from much of Hollywood to the pulling of The Interview is disbelief. Many see it as a total capitulation to the hackers, a total surrender.
On Judd Apatow’s Twitter feed, he vented his fury towards the theater chains. It was “disgraceful that these theaters are not showing The Interview. Will they pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat now?”
Jimmy Kimmel weighed in on Twitter as well, calling the decision an “un-American act of cowardice.”
And you know what? They’re right.
The pulling of The Interview sets a dangerous precedent. If any foreigngovernment, any interest group or “hacktivist” for that matter, doesn’t like the content of any movie, will that get pulled, too, by theater chains? Or by studios?
I see a real chilling effect on the kind of entertainment we see at a movie theater from now on.
We could see situations where controversial subject matter won’t see the light of day out of fear it might offend somebody, somewhere, who might enlist the cyber attackers to get the releases either edited to pieces or stopped entirely.
It is a sad day to see Sony capitulate like this, but really, what do you expect them to do?
Think of the consequences if Sony and the theaters had stood their ground and released this movie and an actual incident took place somewhere in which people were killed.
Then the class action lawsuits would have started flying against Sony and the theaters, and the bills would have piled up for each and every one of them.
Some are now saying North Korea or the hackers would never have staged a terrorist attack anyway; that this was simply about scaring people. But after Aurora, no one was taking any chances. Besides, simply releasing this terror threat about The Interview must surely have given the nutcases out there some ideas.
Anyway, what’s done is done. The bottom line is The Interview is not being screened.
Not only that, it is not even going to be available digitally. This whole release is deep-sixed. I honestly wonder if this picture will even see the light of day on DVD or Blu-Ray, or if any other studio or distribution company might be allowed to release it at any point in the future.
As for Sony’s entertainment division, I truly fear for the future of the company. All the money they spent on The Interview is completely down the drain.
The sad thing is this was a movie a lot of people had looked forward to seeing. It looked like funny, satirical stuff. But clearly, there are people in this world who simply cannot take a joke.
Anyway, we now know the identity of the Grinch who stole Christmas. He is none other than Kim Jong-un.